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Old September 17th, 2021, 07:59 PM
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How do you design your maps?

I've been asking myself this question recently more and more, especially as I've been going through and updating my personal map database with new maps around the site. I'm really curious how other map designers go about designing their maps; what their process is, where their ideas originate, what part of the map they focus on designing first, etc.

Since I'm asking I'll give my own example. When I first started jumping into what I thought was balanced map design over 10 years ago (holy wow that's a long time ago... also those maps were not balanced at all) the main focus for me was some thematic visual. For example, my first map was Sea Arch, designed around, you guessed it, a sea arch. Other maps that followed almost all had some kind of visual I was going for; a crossroads, a waterfall, a blind hill (because I was taking my driver's test at the time), etc.


(Sea Arch for reference. Ah, those good ol' days when I thought this was totally BoV worthy... The memory makes me smile and cringe all at once.)

Nowadays, my design process has totally changed. While I'll still often have some kind of visual that I'm shooting for (October being my most visually-driven map that I've done in the past while), I've got two larger focal points that drive me when designing. The first and main one is all about the pathing and flow of the map. I go in thinking how I want units to traverse the map, where the action should be taking place, and what decisions players will have to make while developing (along with how easily they can recover with alternate paths).

The second focus I have is the zones on the map, which I feel is in a similar vein to pathing. I try to figure out how the map is sectioned out, where points of interest (height/glyphs/speed lanes) are at, how they're connected/where they're split, and try to find a balance so that each zone can give a usable advantage without being a single power play to victory.

More and more lately I've also been sketching out maps before breaking out the tiles, though the sketches are just me jotting down how I want the paths/zones to fall out, rather than drawing a magnificent lava flow in the shape of an X. I do really enjoy trying to piece maps together with these focuses a lot, and I feel like it gives me something of a style that I like (though I do sometimes worry that a lot of my maps feel samey, as I'm a fan of the ( 8 ) pathing structures (does that make sense to anyone else?)). I also do try to go for an atmospheric "feel" of a map (like my calendar series), but that's less of a focus for me on the whole lately. (I've always struggled with the aesthetics that master map makers just seem to pop out.)


(For funsies, here's an example sketch that I made when starting work on August.)

So, what about you? How do you design your maps?

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Last edited by BiggaBullfrog; September 17th, 2021 at 11:39 PM.
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Old September 17th, 2021, 09:08 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

I’ve been wanting to do a video about this for awhile now but haven’t gotten around to it. Typically I’ll start by looking at what terrain I’ve used recently and try to pick something different. Keep it fresh.

From there I can usually form some sort of vision for the map including my key “set piece”. The set piece is a key visual part of the map (see Trollsford Road), typically in the center where everything is built around that. I build out the SZs next to get an idea of spacing and then path the map from there.

EDIT: VirtualScape is actually a key post build tool for me. Once the map is built I can mess around with the structure of the map more efficiently and pop tiles out from the bottom to use them elsewhere. All done in VS as once I have the core pathing, switching around heights and stuff is usually pretty easily understood.

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Last edited by heroscaper2010; September 17th, 2021 at 09:29 PM.
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Old September 17th, 2021, 10:59 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

For me it's always a theme. My worst maps are typically when I just try to throw something at the wall. Rather, I try to get a theme idea and go from there. Typically I'll go on google images and look up cool fantasy worlds or different landscapes or just ask my kids or wife for a cool map idea. they'll say something like a Lava Pool with melting snow nearby and I'll try to get a visual of what that would look like.

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Old September 17th, 2021, 11:16 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

It really depends on the map. In many cases, I start with an idea of what sort of terrain I want to represent, and then build around that idea. An example is Savage Land, a C3G map I designed for casual play. It's supposed to be a fertile jungle valley in Antarctica, so I had snow and glaciers on high ground with swamp and jungle below. Placing a single hex of water inside a ring of lava field looks gorgeous!




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Old September 18th, 2021, 04:16 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Very interesting question, and one I've never thought about much.

Most of my map-making nowadays is done while I'm at work which means I'm using VS only (although my collection is limited enough that many of my maps go beyond my terrain limitations so the VS-only approach is pretty much my only option for many maps I design).

In general, I start each map by laying out the SZ. Often this is flexible and changes as I build the map, but I want to make sure the SZ is sensible. For an RotV map this is often a few grass rows in the back, or perhaps those rock 24 hexes. For a SotM, it's usually a few swamp 7-hexes filled in with swamp water. For a BftU map my default is one SZ sand and one stone (or both sand if it's a 2 BftU map or a BftU/SotM map).

After that I try to lay out my main feature that will span between the SZs. If I'm building a road map I will lay out my desired road shape on level 1. If I have several 24-hex pieces I will try to outline the map shape with these. This is also the point in time where I decide between a map with a central hex and a map with a central 2 hexes (for example, a 7-hex piece has a central hex, and 2 3-hexes slapped together have a central 2 hexes). This is often defined by terrain limits: A 1 BftU map will often have a single central hex because there are 3 dungeon 7-hex pieces available.

After this it's a matter of filling in with whatever I have: add the main level 2 height plateau; put a few glyphs on the board and figure out how to make them balanced distances; place LoS blockers and shadow tiles and battlements. Most of the time I think level 2 should span most of the map so I build that up.

Then level 3 and level 4, I try to save a specific terrain type for these (rock or snow are good candidates). I do think of these together for the most part. Level 4 should ideally sit on top of a larger level 3 island, but there should be some level 3 spaces that don't touch level 4.

Maybe one of these days we can record a 10PU where I draft a map live on VS and we see how it goes

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Old September 19th, 2021, 03:56 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Thanks for the responses so far! I'm really enjoying the different approaches (and I've had a lot of fun reading your methods and then going into your map thread and being able to see those patterns).

I've got to say that I'm really jealous of all the designers who do all/most of their work in Virtualscape. I always have trouble envisioning the map as I try to build it in there, so it's never come together like I've wanted. Which also means that unless I'm able to bust out physical tiles I'm usually not doing any designing at all.

Quote:
Originally Posted by heroscaper2010 View Post
I’ve been wanting to do a video about this for awhile now but haven’t gotten around to it.
Ooh, let me know if you do! I would love to see that!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sir Heroscape View Post
Typically I'll go on google images and look up cool fantasy worlds or different landscapes or just ask my kids or wife for a cool map idea.
Explains a lot, you've got a bunch of picturesque maps!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Taeblewalker View Post
Placing a single hex of water inside a ring of lava field looks gorgeous!
Very much agreed! That map is incredible!

Quote:
Originally Posted by superfrog View Post
Maybe one of these days we can record a 10PU where I draft a map live on VS and we see how it goes
Yo I would actually love that.

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Old September 23rd, 2021, 05:44 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Man, what a great thread. I've enjoyed reading the responses so much — especially because of the differences they reveal in how we go about the process.

Like many of you, I design exclusively in VS. Or rather, designed. I no longer make new maps for posting because I no longer have access to VS. I still play the game, and throw together casual maps for it. But for designing anything balanced and competitive — and especially when designing something that milks the most out of limited terrain sets — I MUST design in VS, because that allows me very easily to pop tiles out from underneath and move them up to the superstructure, as @heroscaper2010 described above. Trying to do that when working with physical tiles is a major major pain. (My signature style is a strong aesthetic preference for BftU as the base set, along with a ferocious impulse to save tiles by propping higher levels up on the bare minimum number of supporting tiles underneath. The latter flows by need from the former, since BftU offers so few tiles.)

But unlike many of you, I sure don't lay out the SZs early. For me, they're usually the last thing to go on. Largely because they're often flexible in terms of whether I use level-1tiles for them, or level-0 (water) instead. If I have leftover water tiles that don't need to go into the main part of the map, I can use them to fill out the SZs, and in the process perhaps take out a few level-1 tiles from the SZ and use them to build up the height of the map.

For me, it's the large 24-hex tiles that determine the fundamental architecture of the map, and are the first thing I start with. I take two of them, and lay them out radially symmetrically to each other in a way that I think is neat. Then I ask whether they'll be on level 1, or instead elevated to level 2. If the latter, I then experiment with various combinations of 7-hex and 3-hex tiles to efficiently prop the big boys up from underneath (which also fills in some additional level-1 space and affects pathing). And then go from there.

So I do not envisage a map — or a central terrain feature — from the start, and then try to realize that image. Instead, my process is totally abstract: I just try to do something interesting with 24-hex tiles as the starting point, and all else flows out and up from there.

Of course, once I have the general shape finished, I do tinker endlessly, shifting small tiles here and there, usually because I want to find even more efficient ways to support the upper levels with fewer lower tiles, so I can free up tiles to extend some other part of the map that needs extending, or because I want to hide ugly tiles (above all, rock) under other tiles.

Fun to think about all this!

Last edited by Typhon2222; October 14th, 2021 at 11:55 PM.
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Old October 14th, 2021, 11:58 PM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Any other cartographers feel like sharing?
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Old October 15th, 2021, 12:09 AM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

idk if you've seen this, Typhon, but Bigga and I made this video which dropped today:


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Old October 16th, 2021, 12:21 AM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Quote:
Originally Posted by superfrog View Post
idk if you've seen this, Typhon, but Bigga and I made this video which dropped today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0lF_v_-_3g&t=1954s
I watched the last half of it. It was a treat to hear your two voices, and to hear you analyze the map you'd created.
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Old November 9th, 2021, 03:56 AM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

-----First off, I love this question! As someone who came into the game rather late (2017) it was truly the aesthetics of the terrain and the way it affected the game that really drew me in as someone who hadn’t played much more than your standard family fare of board games prior to Heroscape.

-----Like many a new and zealous ‘Scaper I started by making “what if we put a big island in a lake!?” style maps and the like, but as I acquired more figures and learned more about the game I quickly realized that maps should seek a level of balance.

-----This is what brought me to seek out tournament style maps and what later kindled the desire to take a stab at making some myself. It also actually led me to join Heroscapers instead of just lurking thanks to an ARV contest (please do NOT look up my first entries )!

-----Funny enough, many attempts at tournament style maps later over a few years, I feel like I still start my maps with that ‘what if?’ Sometimes that’s ‘what if I can use both my tundra sets in a really snowy build because it’s like 117F outside in real life and it seems pleasantly distracting’ or other times it’s technical curiosities, like recently for me, ‘what if I wanted to use a Marvel Warehouse Ruin in a bilaterally symmetrical build? What would that look like? What can I mirror that with?’

-----Next is the issue of which sets I feel like will have the pieces I need to technically and aesthetically be able to get the broad strokes in. I very rarely change the terrain decisions made at this step.
Next is the skeleton draft, as I think of it.

-----I start by setting aside my start zones which helps me dictate the general terrain availability, shape, and flow of the map. I use Virtual Scape for all of my initial drafts and will mirror my SZ shape and slide it out until I’m at the general length of map I’m going for, 26-32 inches being typical, though my map length often changes one or two inches during edits.

-----Next I try to establish my initial inspiration then build level 1 out around it. After I play with my first draft in VS long enough that I think I like it, I build it in real life. This makes sure I didn’t miss any supports or build errors and that the aesthetics are as I envisioned.

-----The next stage for me is tinkering with the physical build, moving figures around to check fitting and generally theoryscaping its flow and layout. This kind of begins a VS/physical build dance, where I go back and forth between the two a few times and settle on my first playable draft.
Next we have the playtesting and revision.

-----Then comes the tiresome part where you realize the revision you just made ruined the glyph pathing or some other nonsense (not exclusive to this step). Also, if you’re lucky somewhere in here you’ve been blessed by feedback from other players via the forums or Discord (thank you!), because you’re nearly guaranteed to get good feedback if you’re open to it.

-----I won’t reiterate all the basic aspects of good tournament maps here because there are too many better articles on the subject already available, but I try to heed their counsel as well as I can throughout the process.

-----The final, most excruciating part is my final draft, where I have maybe 4-8 hexes to define the highest ground on the map. This is personally the hardest part. The part where you know you can’t play 20 games on your creation to hone the final tweaks and you’re not even sure if a consensus is possible due to the variance in powers in the game. This is where the community shines by giving cartographers a shot via local tournaments and map review/contest threads.

-----All this said, sometimes you just have to bust out cool terrain pieces you’re fond of, push the limits of your Ikea table (or 1960s card table in my case), and make a big island in a lake!
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Old November 9th, 2021, 08:13 AM
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Re: How do you design your maps?

Great thread! I'd love for any of you with competitive mindsets when it comes to map building to join us any time over in the C3G Maps section. We could use more of a braintrust when it comes to evaluating maps for competitive play.

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